Norway Finds Big Radiation Leak from a Sunken Russian Submarine

A Russian nuclear-powered submarine, which sank in the Norwegian Sea in 1989, is leaking high levels of radiation, according to Norwegian scientists. Still, the scientists say that the situation is not alarming.

The Komsomolets, a nuclear-powered attack submarine, was built during the Cold-war, in the early 1980s. It was a new addition to the Soviet fleet that could dive much deeper than the American submarines at that time.

In April 1989, a fire broke out on the submarine. From 69 crew members, 42 were killed – few of them from the fire, and the vast majority from hypothermia as they awaited rescue. In the end, the submarine sank to the bottom of the Norwegian Sea, and took with it two nuclear torpedoes with plutonium warheads.

Since then, both Russians and Norwegian monitored regularly the wreck. Norway’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (DSA) and Institute of Marine Research (IMR) have carried out joint annual surveys for over 20 years.

This week, for the first time, the Norwegian scientists had the opportunity to explore the sunken submarine in details with a ROV (remotely-operated vehicle), which also filmed the vessel. Samples were taken from the wreck and from the water around. 

The high levels of radiation were found only inside the ventilation duct and not in the surrounding water. According to Norway’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (DSA), the level of radioactive caesium found in this sample was 800,000 times higher than normal. However, the other samples found much lower levels of radiation, and the wreck is not considered to pose a danger to people or marine life. The submarine is located at a depth of nearly 1,700 metres.

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